Collective community trauma in Oakland

Last night, in Oakland, a white man stabbed two young Black girls, killing one of them (18 year old Nia Wilson) and putting her 19 year old sister into critical condition in the hospital.  The situation was likely racially motivated and many are saying the killer may have been in town for a gathering of white supremacists scheduled to happen in Downtown Oakland today.  Are these two incidents connected?  Possibly, probably,….?

My heart hurts, I’m super angry and sad and overwhelmed with emotions.  I have a 19 year old family friend living with us.  She is Black.  She is the one who told me about the situation and I sat with her for about an hour this morning as she shared her fear… or more so terror and anger and sadness.  This could have been her, she shared.  This could have been her close friends.  She was born and raised in Oakland and said she has never felt so scared to be out as she does today.  She was crying and shaking and wondering what this meant for her own life in Oakland and her own safety.

She was traumatized in a way that I, and every other white person, won’t be able to fully understand.  The stabbing of these two girls doesn’t just impact them and their loved ones.  The trauma reverberates out to every young Black girl in Oakland, and possibly across the country.  It impacts the whole Black community because it’s collective community trauma. These two girls didn’t do anything wrong, they were just traveling on the BART train when this dude followed them off the train and then attacked them, slitting Nia’s throat and seriously injuring her sister.  And it’s likely because he doesn’t like Black people?  Because he thinks his skin color and his people are more superior than others?

Our country is splitting apart at the seams, the unhealed racial wounds seeping out everywhere and it’s scary.  I believe that racial trauma, both old and current, causes people to be in a trauma response, which means there are currently a whole lot of people walking around right now in a fight, flight or freeze response which means the logical mammalian brain is not working… only the reptilian brain is.  That means people are responding from a “I need to find safety no matter what” place, which is not logical and doesn’t think first.  It just responds.  This is not a good place to act from.  It causes more conflict, more hurt and often times, more trauma.

I am left feeling confused.  Maybe I’m in a trauma state of freeze… that would make sense.  My heart is hurting and I ask again, “What more can we do to make a change?  What is really going to make a difference?” We have to shift the energy around by changing the energy within.

I pray for the family of Nia Wilson and for us all.  I pray that love truly does overcome hate.

 

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#permitpatty and #bbqbecky

#permitpatty is an example of a much wider and deeper problem. This woman, whose real name is Alison Ettel,  is the current sacrificial lamb while so many others who justify this behavior and still don’t understand the current and historical impact of her actions are living all around us.  This situation happened in San Francisco, while the situation with #bbqbecky (real name Jennifer Schulte) happened in Oakland.  Both so close that it is surprising Ms. Ettel hadn’t heard about the other situation and this would have caused her to have caution with her actions.   But no, she picked up her phone and called the police (later, she said she just pretended to call) on an 8 year old African American girl who was selling waters to passersby.  For context, this little girl and her mom were selling in front of the apartment building they lived in, which is close to AT&T park, and at a time when the Giants were having a home game.  Thousands of people come to these games and many people sell things all around the park to the game goers. This young girl was trying to make money to fundraise for a trip to Disneyland.  Ms. Ettel was bothered by the noise from the girl and her mom as they were calling out to potential customers letting them know what they were selling.  Her discomfort was seemingly the only thing on her mind, with little to no thought about the impact of her actions.  Her instincts went straight to using the “authorities” to control the behavior of this 8 year old girl and her mom, in order to regain her sense of comfort.

What I believe to be true is this instinctual action of using the police to control Blackness  is deeply rooted in white people’s behavioral reflexes.  What I mean by this is, white people have learned this behavior for so long that it is apart of the automatic reactions when faced with Black and Brown bodies who are in the way of their perceived safety and/or comfort.  Without thinking about it, white people have learned that their personal safety and need for comfort is primary and that they can and should use the police system to help them when they need help. Also, white people seem to believe strongly in the law (which makes sense, because white people are the ones who have been writing the laws since the beginning of this country) and when it is in their favor (meaning, when it leans towards their own comfort and safety), they staunchly believe they are the people to uphold it and enforce other people to follow it.  Both the BBQBecky and the PermitPatty situations involved two white women so set on holding Black people to the law, that they felt the need to call police for a very non-emergency situation and one that could create a potentially very dangerous situation.

The action of calling the police, inflicts trauma on Black people.  When a Black person is killed by the police in cold blood, this traumatic impact is rippled out to include people who see themselves in the ones killed.  This includes a few well known examples such as Stephon Clark and Tamir Rice, but outside of the well known examples there are many, many more.  The continual examples of Black people, whether young or adults, being shot down by police when they aren’t doing ANYTHING wrong is not only an assault to the people being shot and their families, but to Black people everywhere.  So the trauma is felt by people who don’t even know the ones who have been killed.  They understand that if it could happen to Tamir Rice, a 12 year old boy playing in a park, it could happen to their sons or to them.  From the extensive examples of police brutality and death caused overwhelmingly to Black people, we can clearly see that when police are involved with Black people, there is a much higher chance that violence, police brutality or death could be a result of this action.  So when you call the police on a Black person, or “fake” like you’re calling them, you are inciting a traumatic reaction in many Black people’s bodies.  Most Black people will automatically get worried because they understand that the experience of dealing with police is not the same for them than it is for white people.  They understand intimately, or socially, that calling the police could mean several outcomes, and most of them are negative and dangerous.   

So, to white people I say, STOP CALLING THE POLICE!! Have a conversation with someone. Listen to other people talking and recognize your own white body privilege in the face of police and understand on the other side of privilege is oppression and Black and Brown bodies have not had the luxury of privilege in the face of police ever in this country. Let that sink in. 

 

 

 

Collective trauma

Ok my people. If you identify as white, as European American or as caucasian I want you to go on a journey with me.  The more you actually feel into this experience, the more impactful it will be.

I want you to imagine that you have a son.  Your son is 14 years old and goes to high school several miles away.  You love him like nothing else and see him growing up so fast and becoming more and more independence.  It’s his first year in high school and it has definitely been a lot of change from middle school for him.   He’s been getting up and to the bus on his own and doing pretty good with this new responsibility.  Then one day, he oversleeps and misses his bus.  He knows he can’t get a ride from you because you’re on your way to work, or maybe you’re already at work.  He decides to start walking.  He’s not the best at directions, but he figures he can get there if he goes the same route as the bus and he’s pretty sure he can remember that.  After a while, he realizes he doesn’t know where he is.  He’s definitely lost but doesn’t have a phone on him because you had taken it away from him. He can’t look on google maps or call anyone so he decides to ask for help.

He walks up to one of the nearby houses and knocks.  Behind the door he hears an older woman yelling at him and asking why is he trying to break into her house.  Remember this is your son, your 14 year old son.  He’s young and confused and tries to explain that he is just trying to get directions to his High School because he’s lost.  But the woman doesn’t hear him and keeps yelling.  Then her husband comes down and grabs his gun and starts coming to the door.  Your son sees the gun and turns around, running down the steps and away from the house.  He hears a gun shot, louder than he ever imagined it would be.  He has never heard a gun so close to him before.  He runs as fast as he can down the street, scared for his life.

His heart is racing, mind focused on safety, on getting as far away from that house as he can.  He finds a safe place, crouches down, checks all around him to make sure he’s unseen, and then collapses.  His body is shaking, tears streaming down his face, fear pulsating through his veins, while anger hovers just below his skin.  The very skin that these people couldn’t see past.  His skin pale, but flushed red now from the blood pumping throughout every part of his body.  This skin that has been stereotyped to be criminal, seen in every type of media as violent and something to fear.  This skin that so many people don’t get to know what is underneath, yet think they know, act like they know.  This skin that caused this man to get his gun and shoot at your son, based on these stereotyped fears.

And now, your son, huddled in his hiding spot, still shaking a little while his breath starts to regulate, tears drying on his cheeks, starts to run through his mind what just happened.  What had he done wrong?  What should he have done differently?  The overwhelming and irrational feelings of shame and self blame are difficult to push past. They trickle into almost all traumatic events, no matter if they make sense or not.  Even later when you finally hold your son and explain to him he didn’t do anything wrong, he still might question the “what if’s.”   What if that shot had hit him?  What would his mom have done?  What if he hadn’t overslept and made his bus, none of this would have happened.  What if he had gone to a different house, maybe another house wouldn’t have hated white people.  But, what if they would have?

These questions will be mixed in with his anger towards a world he lives in where he can get killed because of his skin color.  He is 14 years old.  He just needed directions because he was lost.  He will likely be more anxious, have nightmares, feel unsure in his environments, jumpy and hyper sensitive to sounds.  He has been traumatized.

What would you do?  How would you feel?  What emotions would be running through you?  What actions would you want to take?

Can you imagine this happening to your son, or does it feel too unrealistic? It’s not an experience we often hear about.  It is not a part of our collective consciousness, meaning the fear of our sons being killed based on the color of their skin has not happened enough for it to become a fear instilled in our racial group at large.  If one of our people is killed or attempted to be killed based on their skin color, we can observe these situations as singular incidents and not regular.  We don’t have a feeling inside of us that it could happen to our own child, or our own brother or nephew.

Unfortunately, this situation did happen.  It happened April 12, 2018 in Rochester Hills, Michigan.  But the 14 year old boy was Black, not white.  The trauma is real and intense and the young man, Brennan Walker, will never be the same.  His mom will never be the same.  His mother’s husband is deployed in Syria, putting his life at risk for the United States, while her son, 14 years old, is being shot at because he asked for directions.  And later his mom found out the only reason the man missed the shot was because he forgot to take the safety off.  Brennan, thankfully, was not a hashtag.  He is a survivor, although he did not walk away without a scar but his scars are beneath the surface of his skin. And they take longer to heal.

When other Black families read about this story, many of them feel impacted.  Many of them feel the collective trauma of this incident.  What I mean by this is that many feel personally impacted almost as if it was a family friend because it reflects on the safety of their own children, their own cousins, their own uncles, their own brothers, etc.  It means that they could all be at risk for the same treatment.  Now, not just this family, but a large collective of Black people in the U.S., feel scared to knock on people’s homes.  Now, Black mothers are going to feel that they can’t confiscate their children’s phones as punishment, because having the phone could keep them alive.  This is collective trauma.  The anger, the confusion, the fear, etc. is felt collectively. As the country reads about this story, and will soon be hearing the audio recording of the incident captured by the Ring doorbell, the anger and frustration will not just be felt with this family, it will be felt collectively within the African American community.

Unfortunately, this is not new. This is how Black death in the U.S. has often been treated; like a public display to make other Black people feel the impact. That was the purpose of beatings, whippings, lynchings, most of which happened in the view of other Black people.  They were public to create a collective trauma, a collective fear in order to collectively control and manipulate.  So, it comes as no surprise that today, murder of the Black body continues to be felt across Black communities.  It continues to create more collective trauma, which impacts millions of people.

I wonder if any of us (Europeans who have become white) can fully grasp the layers of collective trauma on Black and Brown communities.   And in recognizing these layers, can we recognize the emotional, physical and spiritual toll it is taking on people everywhere.  This is the unspoken impacts of racism.  The impacts that are hard to quantify or chart or publish in a fancy book.

 

 

 

Gun Violence, Microaggressions & Youth Power

I work with teenagers.  I’ve been working with teenagers for 15 or 16 years.  I love them, I truly do.  The excitement of the young mind is inspiring, especially when they get caught up in something they truly believe in and then tirelessly push forward with their vision for change.

This is why it has been so incredible to witness students coming together to stand up against gun violence, against a cultural trend in the United States that supports policies  protecting access to weapons over policies that protect human well-being. Last week young people across the United States came together to show the government their power, to tell the country that they are the next generation and they are here now and ready to vote.  It has been beautiful.  At my school, which had the largest school protest in all of Oakland, was entirely run by students.  I was pleasantly surprised to see and hear from students about how much they enjoyed the event.  Completely youth planned, there were speakers, poets, and and open mic for young people to express how they felt about gun violence.  And in the audience there were more than 1000 (some estimated 1500) students standing in the rain to listen, to observe, to be a part of change.  There were of course a lot of students who were there primarily because they wanted to get out of class, but that’s to be expected.  They still stayed there in the rain and listened.

There was a part of me that was so proud of them, so inspired by their actions and their passion.  AND then there was this other part of me that was irritated.  Bothered by the contradictions, by the way this rally, this call to action, this mobilization, was like a really big microaggression for students of color, particularly the students who have felt the real impact of gun violence.  Students who walk and live on streets that have taken the lives of their friends, their family members, people who were close their hearts.

During a summer on the streets of Oakland, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, etc there can be more than 17 murders.  Where are the rallies when the students in these cities come back to school after a summer of gun violence?  Where is the training for teachers to learn how to deal with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or the Trauma response from these kids impacted by intense grief and fear?  Where are the therapy sessions or the healing circles for the students as they come back to school?

When I asked students in my class and my after school program about their thoughts on the rally, many students were upset.  Some even said that, although they feel bad for saying it, they didn’t really care much about the shooting in Parkland.  They felt like the same people who were wanting them to come out and support the people in Parkland were nowhere to be seen or heard when it was Black and Brown people being killed by police or community violence.  To some, this might seem insensitive, and to others they understand this sentiment completely.  These students were frustrated that the people on the mic at the walk-out rally were mostly people who were not directly impacted by gun violence and kept referring to the school shooting in Parkland as the reason for taking action for gun control.   They were white and lived in all mostly white middle to upper class neighborhoods.  They referred to gun violence in this far off place, without even acknowledging the gun violence that happens right here on the streets of Oakland.  This, I believe, is a microaggression.

Microaggressions, as defined by Derald Wing Sue Ph.D., “are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. In many cases, these hidden messages may invalidate the group identity or experiential reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment.”

Having this movement focused on gun violence and gun control, yet center it around one type of gun violence, mass shootings, is a snub and an insult.  It is likely unintentional but very impactful to Black and Brown communities, many of which are heavily impacted by gun violence.  In all of the school shootings I have been aware of, the shooters are almost always white and the overall majority of the victims are white. This communicates to people across this country that when white lives are taken needlessly, there should be an outcry for help and support, but when it’s Black and Brown lives that are taken needlessly, it’s normalized brushed off as if their lives are worth less. This is a microaggression.

My deepest hope moving forward is that the student organizers expand their understanding of gun violence and the people who are most impacted by it.  My hope is that the students most deeply impacted by gun violence are the ones on the mic and whose voices are prioritized in organizing and planning ideas and strategies for creating change.  My hope is that we can look at the different forms of gun violence, whether it be about mass shootings or street killings, and understand the ways they are connected as well as understand the ways they are completely different.  Gun violence in the United States has many forms, none is more important than another.  When our society prioritizes the grief and care for victims of one type of gun violence more than others, this can be deeply hurtful and continue a legacy of white superiority. This is a legacy that we should be doing everything in our power to change.

 

 

Healing Circles

Tomorrow will be the first of an on-going series of healing circles that I am facilitating, happening on the 2nd and 4th Sunday of each month in Oakland CA. These circles are focused on the ways racism and white supremacy have impacted generations of white people in this country. White people who used to have a connection to a place in Europe, and who would be considered Europeans, have been melted into a white identity and have historically and currently benefited socially and economically based on this identity.  The privileges white people receive based on this skin color identity are immense and the internalized white superiority has been woven into every institution we interact with.  I believe deeply that in terms of trauma and harm, all people involved are traumatized and harmed; whether it’s the person/ people causing the harm or the people/ person being harmed.  White supremacy has caused generations of harm and has impacted people of color and white people, but in different ways. In these healing circles we will be exploring how it has impacted white people in order to heal and therefor be more active participants in a society of racial equity.

To view and RSVP on the Facebook invite, click here 

If you’re not on Facebook, RSVP to: restorejustice9@gmail.com or send a text to (510) 220-1589

 

Healing Circles
For Europeans who have become white
To face into the trauma of white supremacy
To heal it’s scars and awaken our internal and eternal truths
To align with our values and deepen our integrity
To end the cycle of internalized superiority and legacy of amnesia
To heal
In connection, in Community

This is an intentional healing space to circle up and dig into the generational trauma of white supremacy in the psyche of white people, because …
Hurt people, hurt people
AND
We are working towards being healed people who connect with other healed people

A white man’s problem…

before I call bullshit, bullshit, let me start by sharing my deepest condolences and love to the families who have lost loved ones. violent, unnecessary death is heavy. prayers are being held for all of you in my heart.

and…..

17 counts of premeditated murder. keep your eyes open and notice what his sentence will end up being. 
and folks who know… know. if this was a Black man, death penalty would be an obvious. but who are we really fooling?
Black people don’t do mass shootings. that’s a white boy problem. so what do you think he’s gonna get? let’s just wait and see what happens.

and to be clear, i am not an advocate of the death penalty.  i’m an advocate for equity and accountable, deep, hard to face, transformative justice.

and

we have yet to see much equity in our history, or accountable, transformative justice before.  yes he has a mental health issue.  how can you kill that many people and NOT have a mental health issue?  and how long can you live inside the belief of white supremacy and not end up with a mental health issue?  this level of disassociation and cognitive dissonance can only create a mental imbalance and of course nobody is going to take accountability for the feeding of these beliefs into him.  everyone is gonna point a finger and nobody will actually do the dirty work of tracing the influences, following the generational line, the passed down behaviors, and look at the epigenetics of this man’s life.  it would likely reveal the sick and twisted, unhealed trauma of racial hatred. generation, to generation, like skin color- it’s in the dna.

this is the white man’s biggest problem, which is also a white woman’s problem.  let’s do the necessary healing work and stop pointing fingers at these “obviously” racist “bad-apples” and see the traces of the past in our own dna, our own behavior… what is our epigenetics?  we may not be mentally imbalanced enough to shoot up a school, but i don’t think any white person in this country who has family here for more than 2 generations isn’t carrying the remnants of the unhealed trauma of racial superiority.

 

De-criminalization of drugs

I don’t watch TV a lot, but I often see snippets of shows when I’m at the gym, where they have 7 different TVs playing what they have determined to be “popular” shows.  There is a show that I see often, highlighting the increased impact of heroin in suburban, middle-class communities.  This issue has also been in the news lately and the language surrounding the “problem” talks about it as a health concern, an issue that requires our compassion and our empathy. The people who are struggling with addiction are being humanized and non-criminalized interventions are urged.  All of this is ultimately what I believe should happen. I believe drug addiction is a heath concern and should be looked at as such.  Unfortunately on the back side of this narrative is the history of the crack cocaine epidemic in the 80’s and before that the heroin epidemic of the 60’s and the heavy impact the African American community in this country, in particular, has endured from both of these “epidemics.”  In the past, there wasn’t any popular language urging us to think about drug users as deserving of help, or being humanized and offered treatment.  On the contrary, they were dehumanized, popularly looked upon as criminals, problematic, super predators and needing harsh prison sentences to learn from their mistakes.

Many scholars, including the profound work of Michelle Alexander’s, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness as well as the the groundbreaking film, 13th, by Ava DuVernay, have looked at the ways in which these drug epidemics deeply impacted the Black community.  They break down the narrative of criminalization, the media portrayal of drug users as violent, as “super-predators”, as unable to take care of their children.  Entire families, entire communities were ripped apart by the these narratives because they were intricately tied to laws;  3 strikes you’re out laws, mandatory minimum laws that gave harsher sentences to crack cocaine users than powder cocaine users, with the major difference being that crack cocaine was being used by Black people and powder cocaine was being used by white people. In both of these bodies of work, they detail the harms to Black communities that have been endured because when people of color use drugs, they are criminalized and incarcerated, their children being taken away from them and put into the foster care system.  As detailed in the article, “How White Users Made Heroin a Public-Health Problem,” by Andrew Cohen in the Atlantic, the tides are turned when it’s white and affluent communities using drugs and the narrative changes to a health concern and worthy of our empathy.   I don’t disagree that the people in suburban, affluent neighborhoods who are being heavily impacted by the effects of drug use and drug addiction, are worthy of our empathy. I strongly believe they are.  I also believe that the people and families from less affluent neighborhoods, predominately people of color, who were caught in a whirlwind of drug use and abuse are just as worthy of our empathy and should be just as likely to receive health informed interventions instead of criminalization and incarceration.

Even now, with California’s law making marijuana legal for recreational use, it is difficult to ignore the amount of people, specifically people of color, who have been locked up or were locked up for years because of marijuana use or sale.  Children didn’t see their parents or their uncles or aunts or brothers or sisters for 3-7 (or more) years sometimes for doing what is now being done legally in dispensaries all over California.  Again, I’m not here to say I disagree with the de-criminalization of marijuana. I believe it’s necessary for us to critically think about the impact of unjust laws and question who is being impacted by them. As history has continued to show us, we will continue to be faced with unjust laws and will be faced with choice on how to engage with them.

There are so many opportunities for each of us to critically ask what rules and laws are we agreeing to or abiding by in order to “keep the peace” or because we would rather follow the rules than question the underlying purpose of the law or rule.  Within each of us, there is an internal moral code.  An internal guide that knows a deeper understanding of humanity than the socially constructed ideas of “right and wrong” that we’re fed by the media and other institutions.  There is no time like the present to ask ourselves, is this right?  What is the underlying purpose of this law or rule?  Who benefits from it, and who is negatively impacted by it?  How have negative stereotypes or assumptions fueled the implementation of this law or rule?

When we stand in our truth with conviction and courage, we make a ripple, causing that ripple to transform into a wave, supporting that wave to become a current.  A current so strong it pulls the most unsuspecting people into the movement towards truth and reconciliation.  Our power grows when we stay grounded in the deep universal truths of love, which is empty without justice, and justice, which is weak without love.  Recently, I was at an even called “Decolonizing the Psyche,” and the facilitator/ speaker, Amber McZeal said, “Love is not the absence of conflict.  Love is the presence of conflict with the courage, character and commitment to find your way through it.”

There is no time like the present to be courageous and speak the truth.